Customize Windows 2012 Start Screen Using Group Policy


One of the great new features of Windows 2012 R2 is the possibility to customize Windows 2012 Start Screen using Group Policy. With the release just released it’s time to get started.

First you need to copy C:\Windows\PolicyDefinitions from a Windows 2012 R2 Server to \\DOMAINFQDN\sysvol\DOMAINFQDN\Policies\PolicyDefinitions. Replace all existing files with the newer versions. For more details check this blog post Create a Central Store for Group Policy Administrative Templates.

Now that you have the new policy definition files in your Group Policy Central Store you can do the administration from any machine with the Group Policy Management Console installed.

Log on to a Windows 2012 R2 or Windows 8.1 machine and customize the start screen the way you want it to look for the users when they log in for the first time.

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When you’re happy with the layout, run PowerShell as an Administrator and run the following command: export-startlayout –path “\\dc03\xa\Start Screen\WS2012R2\Start.xml” -as xml

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To customize Windows 2012 Start Screen using Group Policy open Group Policy Management Console and navigate to Computer Configuration – Administrative Templates – Start Menu and Taskbar. Enable the Start Screen Layout policy and point it to the location of your XML file.

Customize Windows 2012 Start Screen Using Group Policy 02

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My test lab is running on Hyper-V with Windows 2012 R2 delivered by Citrix XenDesktop 7.1 & Machine Creation Services.

All applications are sequenced with Microsoft App-V 5 and I must say that the performance of SMB3 is incredible. The applications launches so fast that it’s very hard to tell if the application is installed locally or streamed with App-V 5 through Shared Content Store.

Did I say it’s free for Remote Desktop Services? Another good reason for using Server OS instead of Desktop OS (VDI). Check out my App-V 5 Course today to get started.



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Friday 30th of September 2022

26 thoughts on “Customize Windows 2012 Start Screen Using Group Policy”

  1. Hi Trond Eirik,

    I tried setting this but it will not apply for the user.
    The policy is applied successfully but on the startmenu – only Windows Explorer and Internet Explorer is shown. Although I have defined 8-10 applications in the xml file (including windows explorer and internet explorer).

    Might there be another policy setting that is preventing access to the applications?

    The XML-file is stored on a fileshare: “\serversharefile.xml”. The users cannot browse the network with Windows Explorer. Must they be able to do this?

    Best regards,
    Thomas Hansen

  2. prepared xml. Edited it for checking the entries. All pinned apps are listed. Placed the file on SYSVOL. Remote user can access the file from his session. Sure Policy applied, but there are no pinned apps. Just some default.
    What to check?

  3. One small adjustment:

    When you’re happy with the layout, run PowerShell as an Administrator and run the following command: export-startlayout –path “\\dc03\xa\Start Screen\WS2012R2\Start.xml” -as xml

    DO NOT RUN AS ADMINISTRATOR, if you do you will not copy your new xml, but the xml of the administrator

    Just run the export as a user where it can save it. Then copy it to the central location.

  4. Hi,

    Very interesting post! I’m also in process to do something similar for Domain joined Windows 10 machines, where the apps are delivered to them via app-v 5.1. One question, when the user logs in after the GPO is applied are they able to see the pinned virtualized app tiles? For me, layout gets applied but the tiles are missing. Once I update the timestamp of the xml file and log in again, the tiles appear for the user. I think there is a timing issue, wherein GPO is getting applied before the sequenced apps are assigned to the user. Any suggestions? Are you able to get the tiles for the virtualized apps as soon as you login?

    • Thanks, you’re probably right about the timeing issues. I’ve not tried with App-V, only as redirected Start-Menu (not supported) and Classic Shell. Much better than what MS want us to use and don’t have a real enterprise ready solution.

  5. Thank you for a great article. Unfortunately, I am unable to make it work. I have a 2012R2 server. I have exported the start menu to a local folder on the C-drive, and enabled the GPO under user config -> Admin templates -> Start menu and taskbar -> enable “Start Screen Layout” policy and set it to the file exported.

    The problem I am seeing is that it is very unreliable. Some times the Start menu shows as it should, but some times it is just empty and a log off – log on is required.

    So for now, I am using the old AppData\Local\Microsoft\windows\appsFolder.itemdata-ms to Default user profile as a workaround, but this is a very static solution. Not dynamic at all. Unable to update existing users’ start menu with this..

      • Should it be in the Computer Config GPO so that its set as a Default, similar to putting the files in the Default User Profile?, just querying as this is a user rather than computer setting isn’t it.

        The reason I ask is we have a couple of RDS Servers with different Start Menu’s that users connect to and oddly they don’t get the correct menu on all of them. There seems to be a 2 menu files appFolder.itemdata-ms and appsfolderlayout.bin in the root of the users Roaming Profile and these appear to have an impact as when deleted the start menu changes to the default one. Issue only started happening as users started using multiple servers with different menu layouts, all menus are stored locally on the servers to remove dependancies on network locations as they don’t change often.

  6. One huge problem with this method aside from the fact that lots of people have problems making it work. Since this is a computer policy it applies to all (Administrators included). It will make it fairly difficult to administer the server after. 1. Can you even search for applications that don’t appear in the start menu after? 2.Good luck right-clicking an application and choosing Run-As Administrator with this policy applied. You can’t do it. I had to disable. Customizing the Start-Menu is unnecessarily frustrating and complicated. I am trying to make this work in a COSN production environment. I have collectively spent many hours on a solution. It is crazy that Microsoft simply did not take Terminal Services into any sort of consideration especially when they are pushing RDS solutions to complete with Citrix (although Citrix has NO good solution for this either).

    • The quick fix is using Classic Shell which I’ve always recommended, but some has problem going with small 3rd parties. Let’s admit, MS simply doesn’t care, on W10 / WS16 it’s even a bigger mess!

  7. Hi, i have a Windows server 2012 R2 and i have this problem: in the Group Policy Management Console i navigate to ‘Computer Configuration’ – ‘Administrative Templates’, but there isn’t ‘Start Menu and Taskbar’. Why?

    Thank you!

      • i tried to watch in a w10 Group Policy Central Store but i didn’t see “Computer Configuration” – “Administrative Templates” – “Start Menu and Taskbar”. why?

        Thank you


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